He's a writer from nowhere whose writing went everywhere.
Even today, Raymond Carver's words come alive in films, crackle on TV, pop
up in anthologies, and inspire aspiring young writers in
classrooms around the world. His works were a major inspiration behind
the revitalization of the short story in the 1980s, and his minimalist
approach to writing places him in the same hallowed company as Stephen Crane
and Ernest Hemingway.
Born in Clatskanie, Oregon--a small mill town on the Columbia
River--Carver was never at a loss for things to do. His father, a
sawmill worker, was an alcoholic who used to tell his son stories about his
hunting and fishing exploits or about his grandfather, who had the unique
distinction of fighting in the
Civil War for both sides. Carver's mother worked on occasion as a
waitress and as a retail clerk when she wasn't a tending to her family as a homemaker.
Carver went to school in Yakima, Washington, where he became an avid fan
of the novels of Mickey Spillane and the action-adventure short stories appearing in
Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. After being graduated in
1956, he married his 16-year-old high school sweetheart, Maryann Burk.
She was pregnant and just out of an Episcopalian private school for girls.
The Carvers had their second child two years later. Carver supported
his family by working as a janitor, a sawmill laborer, and a salesman.
His interest in writing grew from a course
he took in
Paradise, California, where he had moved with his family to be near his
wife's parents. The course was taught by John Gardner. Later,
that all his writing life he had felt Gardner looking over his shoulder when
he wrote, "approving or disapproving of certain words, phrases, and
Carver continued his studies at Humboldt State College, from which he received
a B.A. in 1963, as well as at the University of Iowa. While at Humboldt, he
published his first story, "Pastoral," in Western Humanites Review,
and his first poem, "The Brass Ring," in Targets, which also featured
a poem by Charles Bukowski. Carver worked as a textbook editor until
he was fired in 1970 and, after that, began teaching at universities around the
country. He was professor of English at Syracuse University from 1980
During these years of working different jobs, raising a family, and
trying to write, Carver experienced difficulty dealing with the pressures of
He began drinking--socially at first, and then more heavily. "Alcohol
became a problem," he said. "I more or less gave up, threw in the
towel, and took to full-time drinking as a serious pursuit."
In 1967, his story, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" was selected for
the anthology Best American Short Stories, edited by Martha Foley.
In the fall semester of 1973, Carver was a teacher at the Iowa Writers'
Workshop with John Cheever, but later admitted that they did nothing but
drink. Not too long after leaving Iowa City, Cheever went to a
treatment center, but Carver continued his binge drinking.
Carver's first anthology of short stories, Put Yourself in My Shoes,
appeared in 1974. It was followed by Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
(1976), establishing his reputation as a writer of merit. His
favorite recurring theme is love, its absence, and the effect that
on marriage and individual identity.
In his prose, Carver united the simplicity of Chekhov with the darkness
of Kafka. "It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous
dialogue," he said, "and have it send a chill along the reader's spine--the
source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it. That's the kind
of writing that most interests me."
As Carver's reputation grew, so too did that of his editor, Gordon Lish,
first while at Esquire and then at Alfred A. Knopf. In
Writers at Work (1986), Carver praises Lish's skills: "... he is
remarkably smart and sensitive to the needs of a manuscript. He's a
good editor. Maybe he's a great editor. All I know for sure it
that he's my editor and my friend, and I'm glad on both counts."
Much of Carver's writing is based on his own experiences in the Pacific
Northwest. "... everything we write is, in some way,
autobiographical," he said. He depicted the quiet desperation of
white- and blue-collar workers, salesmen, and waitresses while painting
their sense of betrayal and the frustration with their inability to express their feelings.
Rejecting the experimental fiction in vogue throughout the 60s and 70s,
Carver became one of the leading figures among the so-called dirty realists
who relied on their gritty depictions of everyday life. Although on
the surface many of the author's stories appear calm and even sanguine, they
are filled with emotional tension, hidden memories, unhealed wounds,
longing, hate, anxiety, and sadness, much of what the author had experienced
throughout his life
Carver passed a milestone in his life on June 2, 1977, when he stopped
drinking with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. His later stories grew
increasingly more expansive and detailed. In the late seventies, he
separated from his wife and began living with poet Tess Gallagher, whom he
had met at a writer's conference in Dallas. He divorced his wife in
1982 and married Gallagher six years later. Two months after that, on
August 2, 1988, Carver died of lung cancer.
Selections of Carver's short
fiction, Where I'm Calling from, appeared posthumously in 1988.
Ironically, it was after writing the final story in the anthology, "Errand,"
about the death of Chekhov, that Carver learned he had cancer.
Discover Raymond Carver
Yourself - Check Out Today's Best-Selling